AIMS To explore the patient experience of symptoms of eye disease related to diabetes and its treatment, including increase of symptoms over time and their relation to severity of the condition and the effect of multiple treatments and symptoms on quality of life. METHODS A qualitative interview study was implemented at four eye clinics in the UK. This study design was intended to yield 240 interviews in patients having their first laser treatment or first follow-up and in multi-treatment patients with a clinically documented loss of visual function in at least one eye (VA </= 6/12). The intention was to have an approximately equal number of patients with proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) or macular oedema (MO). RESULTS A total of 227 interviews were completed (54% PDR and 46% MO). The most frequently reported symptom prior to initial treatment was blurred vision (55%). First-time-treatment patients reported fewer symptoms than the multi-treatment patients. After a pronounced reduction of quality-of-life impacts after the first laser treatment, results all demonstrate an increasing impact as patients move from first treatment to multiple treatments. The main responses regarding satisfaction with laser treatment were that, although patient expectations were basically met, the treatment had less of an impact than they hoped for, and they would have the treatment again if needed. CONCLUSIONS The current study provides a qualitative exploration of visual symptoms, levels of self-reported visual impairment, and general description of the areas of impact or restriction that patients experienced due to their eye disease, both pre- and post-laser treatment.